What?! Where did all the time go? It’s such a strange feeling to admit that my time here is coming to an end very quickly, when I feel like my time thinking about and planning for this trip lasted years and years. And now only 2 weeks left? Oh my gosh…
However, there is another feeling in me that I have expressed to a couple of my friends and family, and that is a whole new appreciation for home – for North Carolina, for the south, for the feeling of being in a place that I know, and where people know me. Until living here in Russia for three months, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to call North Carolina home, and how much pride and privilege I feel for being from the south, and being raised the way that I was. I didn’t realize how many different places in North Carolina meant so much to me, and how much character our state has. As much as I don’t want my big adventure to be over, I’m looking forward to coming home with a new perspective of the place where I was born and raised, and all the special qualities about it.
Anyway, the past two weeks have been good! Two weekends ago was Easter. People who identify as Russian Orthodox do celebrate Easter, and so it was really interesting to see how their celebration is different from ours. First, on Saturday night at midnight, everyone goes to mass (I’m not sure if that’s what they call it, but we’ll just call it that for now). And the priest and clergymen have a very long ritual that they do, which starts with leading the congregation outside and around the the whole church; and everyone is saying this chant and most people are carrying candles. The clergymen are all dressed up in very brightly colored, ornate robes, and they carry incense and long golden staff with a cross at the top, among other things. When they finally reenter the church, they continue chanting for a while, and then only the priest will speak, and the congregation periodically responds and crosses themselves. And as always, Russian Orthodox services are standing, as in, nobody sits down the whole entire time. And services can be quite long! Even my friends and I didn’t stay for the whole service. People have also been fasting for Lent, and I mean, truly giving up most foods (which, in Russia, it’s not like they start with a whole lot of options…), so the people of the congregation are truly supposed to be having a very spiritual moment during the service. And after the service is over, they go home and eat a big holiday meal that they have been preparing for, and break their fast. They also have a phrase that I heard and saw around often which was “Христос Воскресе” to which one would respond “Воистину Воскресе,” which means, “Christ has risen” “Truly, he has risen.” Often times just “ХВ” would be drawn in the icing on their Easter cake, or painted onto eggs, or something small like that. So, then, on Sunday, they dye eggs! However, they typically dye eggs by putting dry onion peel in boiling water, and then putting the eggs in, which turns the eggs either a dark reddish or brownish color. Also, Easter is not marketed the way it is here. There’s practically nothing anywhere to show that Easter is coming, as opposed to in America where there is Easter everything, everywhere, starting a month before the holiday. The one thing you will see about Easter is in bakeries! They have this special Easter cake, called кулич (kulich) which is a fairly dry cake with white icing on the top and colorful sprinkles. My teacher said it’s not made for the taste, just the tradition; and perhaps she’s right. My babyshka made one and I got to try a little piece of it, and I can’t even remember what it tasted like. So, that was Easter in Russia!
Last weekend our whole group went to Veliky Novgorod, which is a city about 3-4 hours by bus from Saint Petersburg. I don’t have a whole lot to say about it… We didn’t have that great of a tour, which is really unfortunate. I don’t even know if I want to try to describe our day. It’s just a really really old city that has a lot of old cathedrals and exhibits on how Russians might have lived during the medieval period. I think that’s the best I can do. I think the city has a lot to offer, and if it were up to me, I think I would spend at least two days there exploring all the old cathedrals and fort and really learn about those places.
This past Wednesday, our whole group went to the Baltika Beer Brewery! It might be the biggest beer brewery in Europe (although I just got that fact off Wikipedia) and it’s headquarters are here in Saint Petersburg, and I went there! It was really neat. I’ve never been to a beer brewery even in America, so it was a first for me. It was gigantic. I mean, everything about that place was gigantic. Our tour guide was super cool, and the tour wasn’t very long. He told us about how the beer is made, and about the different awards their beer has won internationally, and about how they distribute the beer, and a little bit about beer throughout history. And then… we had a beer tasting. So almost 20 of us are divided between three tables, and we a given a stack of plastic cups, and our guide comes by with one bottle of beer per table for us to share and taste. I think some of the beers we tasted were new, or ones that they made in smaller batches, but then others were regular ones that are widely distributed. So we had about 5 or 6 bottles like that, and then all of a sudden the guide says, “Okay, well you have 10 minutes to clean out the refrigerators.” And then just sat there. Everyone was so hesitant, we were just looking at each other like, “What?… Does he mean…?” Um. Yeah. He let a group of broke-ass college students have a beer free-for-all for 10 to 15 minutes. CAN YOU IMAGINE THE CRAZY. I’ll tell you what, that was one fun bus ride on the way back home! I felt so weird about it though! Like… so greedy for wanting as much free beer as a I could drink in 10 minutes! Ahh! It was so strange but so fun. Definitely one of the best excursions our group has gone on.
On Thursday was my friend Clare’s 22nd birthday! We went to all of our favorite places around the city for lunch and dinner and in-between, and then for drinks that night, Clare chose to go to the Wild Oscar bar, which wasn’t very far from where we live. She really loves Oscar Wilde, so that’s why she chose it. So we go there and we have some drinks and then a live band starts up! And you wouldn’t believe what their sound was – rockabilly! Hahaha! The only song I distinctly remember them playing was Cocaine by Eric Clapton, but I know they played two songs about the south and I was just having a ball. Clare and I got the party started, of course, and danced like 1 inch from the band almost the whole night. I guess I should mention that these were older Russian men in this band, and their English was not quite so great, so it was just so funny to be at this particular bar, in Russia, listening to this particular music. I’m laughing now just thinking about it, but I don’t know if I can quite describe just how funny and non-sensical it seemed to us. But anyway, we had a great night together!
Then Friday, my house-sister Lena, Clare, Tasha, Zack, and I all went to Krondshdat for the day, which is a suburb of Saint Petersburg. It was about 2 hours by bus, and on the way there it was snowing hard, and then raining, and I was about ready to just turn around and go right back home. But then as soon as we arrived, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day! I was so glad and relieved. And Krondshdat ended up being an absolutely beautiful place! It’s an island, and it’s historically important to Saint Petersburg because of naval and trading purposes. Their main sight to see is this gigantic cathedral, simply called the Naval Cathedral, which was recently restored. It was so unlike any other cathedrals we have seen in Russia. It was very bright and open, which is simply normally the exact opposite of cathedrals here. We spent a decent amount of time in there just looking around and enjoying this refreshing, beautiful sight. Other sights we saw were the lighthouse (but you can’t climb up to the top or anything), the tide gauge, “which is a zero level for the Baltic system of altitudes. All depths and altitudes (even the heights of spacecraft) in Russia and other countries are measured from this sea gauge,” according to one source. Isn’t that neat? In general, the architecture of the city is beautiful – the old boathouses and library and other cathedrals. And there are many paths that run by the canals that are nice to walk along as we were touring the city. Being there was definitely one of my favorite days in Russia.
Alrighty, so that’s all for now! This weekend we are finally going to Peterhof – probably the most famous place outside of Saint Petersburg proper, where Peterhof Palace is located – the palace that rivals Versailles.
See everybody soon!
P.S. Since I’m a terrible step-daughter and forgot to say this a long time ago – HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVIE! :) Sorry I forgot. :( But I can make it up to you when I get home by making you so proud of my new classic, southern music appreciation! Love you lots and can’t wait to see you soon!